A proposed amendment to Florida’s constitution that would ensure every Floridian “has a right to a clean and healthful environment,” continues to come under attack from the state’s business community.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) went before the Judicial Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) Tuesday afternoon to voice their concerns about the proposed amendment. They claim the measure is “dangerously vague” and, if placed on next year’s ballot and approved by voters, would undo years of environmental regulations and subject Florida businesses to unwarranted lawsuits.
The proposed amendment is one of dozens being reviewed by the CRC which meets every 20 years to consider proposed changes to the state constitution.
“While responsibly protecting our natural resources is essential, the Florida Chamber believes that this constitutional proposal will impose opaque demands on Florida’s sustainable growth as well as become a vehicle for a potentially limitless number of lawsuits,” said Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson in a letter sent last month to members of the CRC.
The proposed amendment would add the following paragraph to the Constitution:
The natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations. Every person has a right to a clean and healthful environment, including clean air and water; control of pollution; and the conservation and restoration of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment as provided by law. Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations, as provided by law.
The last sentence of the proposal is especially troubling for the business groups. They believe the wording would open the door to well-funded, out-of-state groups and individuals who wish to impose their agendas on Florida’s environmental regulatory process.
“Should this amendment pass in its current form we would essentially be hitting the reset button on 45 years of environmental regulation in the state of Florida,” said Florida Chamber legislative advocate Ryan Matthews, who served as interim secretary for the state Department of Environment Protection. “We are opening the door to frivolous lawsuits from those who might be anti-growth.”
Environmentalists believe the business community is overreacting.
“When I read this provision I don’t see the parade of horribles that have been articulated here today,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. “If this were to pass and courts were to start to interpret it … I feel like it’s pretty infrequent that courts would completely toss out the multi-decades of regulatory schemes and laws that have been established.”
The amendment is sponsored by CRC member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch of Martin County, who says she supports the measure because it came from the public and deals with the environment. The proposal is a collaboration by professors and students at Stetson and Barry universities.
Thurlow-Lippisch says she understands why business groups feel the wording of the proposed amendment is “vague.” She believes the current provision of the constitution is also vague. Article II, Section 7 says “adequate provision” shall be made to protect the environment.
Thurlow-Lippisch says she’s willing to work with the business groups to come up with a better way to word the amendment.
“Maybe it’s all very vague,” Thurlow-Lippisch said. “And we should type it up and think of how we might be able to protect the environment for future generations.”
The business groups say removing the last sentence of the proposed amendment, which would permit any person to file a lawsuit no matter whether they have legal standing in the case, would be a good start. But they add that’s not the only issue they have with the measure.
The CRC’s Judicial Committee is expected to vote on the proposed amendment by January.